By: Maryann Muganda
Nearly 20 years ago Kenya attempted to adopt the better-yielding disease-and drought-resistant genetically engineered crop varieties.
Like other African countries, Kenya made little effort in getting insect resistant maize and cotton to the farmers.
These improved crops were later banned in November 2012 after a number of concerns over the safety of genetically modified foods in Kenya and other African countries.
The ban was on open cultivation of genetically modified crops and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations for 10 years during President Mwai Kibaki’s reign.
On Monday 3rd of October 2022, President William Ruto lifted a decade-old ban on open cultivation of genetically modified crops.
“The Cabinet vacated its earlier decision of November,8 2012, effectively lifting the ban on genetically modified crops,” the statement from President Ruto after Cabinet meeting read in part.
“Open cultivation and importation of white (GMO) is now authorized,” it added.
The decision comes when more than 4.2 million Kenyans are facing severe hunger amid high food prices due to drought and the Russian-Ukraine War.
Food security, consumer rights and biodiversity groups are protesting Kenya’s reversal of a ban on genetically modified foods.
A group of 21 non-Governmental organizations held a press conference on October 6 challenging the ban lift on GMOs. They greatly expressed their disappointment by the cabinet’s decision in a statement issued by the group.
“We are greatly disappointed by the cabinet’s decision to lift the ban on the cultivation and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Kenya, which was put in place 10 years ago” the statement said.
The group expresses a few concerns on the decision stating that there was no public participation “The rushed decision to lift the ban on importation of GMOs into the country lacked public participation. Views of the public were not considered in the decision to lift the ban, which essentially curtails the freedom of Kenyans to choose what to eat or not”. The statement said.
All efforts must be made to safeguard livelihoods and economic interests as agriculture continues to be the mainstay for more than 60% of Kenyans. the lifting of the ban opens market to US farmers with sophisticated technologies and highly subsidized farming to compete with Kenyan maize farmers that are inadequately supported.
Eustus Kiarie the CEO of KOAN-Kenya Organic Agriculture Network in a statement on the same day asked if this was the bottom-up economy the government had promised. “This is not a fair market for our farmers. Our neighbours, Uganda and Tanzania will also not favourably compete with the US maize-farmers. Is this the bottom-up economic model that we were promised?”
The lobby groups claimed that the body vested by the government to regulate GMOs failed to do its job as it was not adequately facilitated to undertake its mandate.
Also, they raised a concerned on the Genetically Modified foods safety stating that the cabinet disregarded the fundamental precautionary principle and acted in utter contempt of the interests of the overall public food safety paradigm in the country.
“Food security is not just the amount of food but the quality and safety of food”. The statement said.
The NGOs have also called for transparency asking the government institutions entrusted by the people to protect and propagate information should stop peddling misinformation about the intentions and attributes of GMOs and they also demanded that the ban to be immediately reinstated and an inclusive participatory process be instituted to look into long term and sustainable solutions affecting food security and agricultural productivity in the country.
“The government in partnerships with CSOs, consumer and farmer organizations should immediately roll out public awareness campaign to inform the public on the pros and cons associated with GM food and seek their consent before allowing them on the Kenyan plates.”